Sunday, October 25, 2009

Madmen, Cannibals and Slashers

Why does Jason Voorhees get a doll? Yes, he's going onto his 12th incarnation (in 3D, no less), but there are plenty of other Horror movie killers more worthy of a doll.

I've already recently talked about the Father (or is it Mother) of the Slasher genre, Hitchcock's still effective and nearly perfectly-made Psycho. At the time, Hollywood was in a tizzy. the Master of Suspense making a cheap indie horror movie? What was he thinking? Indeed. Psycho ended up being quite an extraordinary film that literally changed the movie-going habits of America. Richard Matheson wrote both the novel and screenplay, based on the notorious Wisconsin necrophiliac, Ed Gein.

13 years later, Kim Henkal and Tobe Hooper would base their screenplay on Gein, as well. This time, the story was set in Texas and the Gein character was an entire family of sadistic cannibals who lured strangers to their remote farm where they would be terrorized before being butchered. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a drive-in sensation and started Hooper's directing career (which sadly peaked with Poltergeist). Of course, the most memorable member of this mad clan was a character simply known as Leatherface (so named because he wears a mask made of other human faces stitched together). The interesting think about TTCM is that we never really see any of the violence. We see its aftermath and we hear that terrible chainsaw running, but really awful stuff happens off screen, leaving the view to conjure up his or her own horrifying images, proving that less is, indeed, more.

TTCM has had several sequels, though only Hooper's own is any good. sadly, it wasn't until 1986 when Hooper and Henkal reunited for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the truly nightmarish sequel set mostly in the access tunnels beneath an abandoned amusement park. Bill Mosely (more about him in a bit) plays a Chop-Top, one of the most vile and repulsive and still fascinating characters in Horror history. And the scene where Leatherface tries to make our heroine waer her own mask? Stupefyingly horrific.

I saw TTCM2 in a theater, and remembering feeling the same nightmarish numbness I felt after seeing Apocalypse Now and another movie I'll talk about in a bit.

Now - you may be asking yourself about the inclusion of a certain 1978 classic Horror movie and it's immortal antagonist, a certain M.M. I feel like I need to let you know that I am deliberately omitting this particular film from this particular post because of an upcoming, preplanned post of it's own.

Director Bob Clark (A Christmas Story), got his start in Horror. He'd previously made a weird zombie picture called Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, but in 1974 he gave us Black Christmas, a gruesome little tale about a killer stalking a sorority. Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet); Keir Dullea (2001); Margot Kidder (Superman: The Movie); John Saxon (another film yet to come) and the fabulous Andrea Martin (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) star in this low budget, yet very effective movie:

Don't bother with the 2006 remake.

Last House on the Left director Wes Craven returned in 1977 with a gruesome little story inspired by ancient Scottish history called The Hills Have Eyes. A family on their way to California in a motor-home breaks down in the desert, only to be descended upon by a clan of mutant cannibals. It starred the would would be Elliot's mom in E.T., Dee Wallace and the extraordinary-looking Michael Berryman:

In 1980, Sean S. Cunningham got his and Kevin Bacon's career off to a start with a nasty little
slasher movie called Friday the 13th. We all know that Jason (see the doll, above) is not the antagonist in the the franchise's progenitor, but rather his mother (played hilariously over-the-top by former 50's B-Lister Betsy Palmer). The only worse performance is from 'Final Girl' Adrienne King, who doesn't survive past the first ten minutes of the sequel. Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead; From Dusk Till Dawn) provided the gruesome and gory FX.

1980 also saw William Lustig's version of Joe Spinell's Maniac, loosely inspired by The Son of Sam. At the time, it was reviled for it's over-the-top violence, but Horror fans were really excited by Make-up Master Tom Savini's state-of-the-art FX.

That's Savini getting his head blown off in the opening shots, by the way. It would be another four years before an iconic, unkillable killer would grace the silver screen.

Legendary director Wes Craven created a new franchise and a new killer in 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street:

Not only did Nightmare... bring us Freddy Krueger (thereby making a Horror icon out of actor Robert Englund), it was the feature debut of uber-talented and uber-eccentric Johnny Depp. And of course, John Saxon is not only our heroine Nancy's dad, he's the chief of police with a big secret.

There were plenty of terrible slasher movies in the 80's (and they'll get their own post, as well).
Though 1986 brought us the chilling Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. Starring Michael Rooker (Slither), was a brutal and terrifying look into the mind of a madman:

But it wouldn't be until 1991 that a cannibalistic serial killer again caught audience's attention. Previously portrayed by Bryan Cox in Michael Mann's Manhunter, Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for his performance as Doctor Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector in Jonathan Demme's riveting adaption of Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs, despite having less than 30 minutes of actual screen time.

Then in 1995, director David Fincher directed the only movie I have never been able to bring myself to watch again, Se7en. This is only the third movie that made me feel like I was watching someone else's nightmare, and it disturbed me from the opening credits. Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey star in this exceptionally creepy tale of a serial killer using the Seven Deadly Sins as his M.O. Set in an unnamed city wher it constantly rains, Se7en is the single most disturbing movie I have ever seen.

Rocker-turned-director Rob Zombie made a loving homage to those 70's horror flicks with House of 1000 Corpses in 2003. Undeservedly maligned, House... hearkens back to TTCM in a tale about a family of maniacs luring strangers in to torture and kill them. And those they don't kill are given over to the deformed Dr. Satan for experimentation:

Zombie's technically superior 2005 sequel, The Devil's Rejects is a revenge tale and ignores Dr. Satan and his experiments altogether. In both films, TCM2's Bill Mosely is super creepy as Otis:

The slasher genre eventually evolved into the 'Torture Porn' genre of films like Saw and Hostel, exercises in bad taste, rather than true Horror. And recent attempts at rebooting some those franchises have been less than critically successful (though I do have hopes for the upcoming Elm Street reboot, starring Jackie Earle Haley.

OK, so tell me... What serial killer/slasher flick got to you? Who's your favorite unstoppable maniac?I left some off my list for brevity's sake (ha!). Maybe one of them is yours...

More terrors, anon.

1 comment:

Matty said...

First off, TTCM 2 is one of my favorite slasher sequels.

Second off, HO1000C sucks. Real bad. The story is there, but the film is painful. But the sequel is glorious, wonderful midnight film perfection.


Cropsy from The Burning is reasonably fun. As is the Shocker (a so-so Craven film, with a better premise than was delivered).

Chucky is the first, second, and fourth film is always a good time. The third film is terribly and painfully overacted. And the fifth film is just garbage. But you have to love good ol' Annie Camden as the heroine in the first film; it adds a new element of delight!

And who knows? Maybe the new little wonder demon, Sam, from TrT will get to see the light of day in a sequel if DVD sales do as well as they clearly are doing. He does, after all, already have a doll out in movie stores.